Iceland: Hot and cold science in nature’s geological laboratory, Part 1

Þingvellir Park in Iceland (© b k)

The summer of 1783 seemed like the end of the world for European farmers. A dry, foul-smelling fog settled on the land one day—desolating crops, burning plants, and killing people. In one French village a third of the parishioners died, and in England the death rate doubled.

We now know that this catastrophe was caused by nature: a volcanic eruption on remote, virtually unexplored Iceland. This island is unique in the way it brings together in close proximity both freeze and fire, the dramatic forces of volcanos and of layers of frigid glaciers. In this two-part series, we examine both extremes.


  • Dr. Matthew Roberts: Glaciologist, Geophysics Department, Icelandic Meteorological Office, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Dr. Freystein Sigmundsen: Director, Nordic Vulcanological Institute, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Dr. Reidar Trønnes: Research scientist, on leave from the University of Oslo in Sweden at Nordic Vulcanological Institute, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Dr. Gerald Ernst, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Professor Helgi Bjornsson, Glaciologist, Division of Geophysics, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Ragnar Kristjansson: Manager, Staftafell National Park, Iceland

Producer: Laura Durnford

Broadcast: January 24, 2004